Friday, March 17 | 6:00 p.m. | Van Andel Arena
To the Victor Goes the Crown
Coming into Friday’s game, just 1.4 percentage points separate the Central Division- leading Grand Rapids Griffins (.675) and the second-place Chicago Wolves (.661). The victor of tonight’s tilt will gain — or retain — the top seat in the Central. However, if the Wolves want to wear the crown when the dust settles after this weekend’s home-and- home series finale, they’ll need to win both games. If the Wolves gain “only” three points from this weekend, then the team will still trail by at least 0.5 percentage points in the standings. While Chicago (82) owns one more point than Grand Rapids (81), the Griffins have two games in hand and lead the Wolves 36-35 in regulation and overtime wins (ROW).
GRAPPLING THE GRIFFINS
The road to Central Division supremacy goes through Grand Rapids and the Griffins have been the Wolves’ kryptonite. The legendary creatures have lived up to their name on the ice against Chicago and lead the season series 6-2-0-0 through eight games. The Griffins have outscored the Wolves 31-21. Just two games have been decided by a one- goal margin, and Grand Rapids handed Chicago its largest margin of defeat this season in a 7-1 romp on Dec. 15 at Allstate Arena. Both predators have fiercely protected their respective dens this season, but the Wolves will need to leave The Van with a W to keep their dream alive of taking the Central Division lead. The Griffins own a 21-8-0-2 home record and have only lost once to the Wolves at Van Andel this season.
BINNER GOT BACK
On Wednesday, Jordan Binnington became just the third goaltender in Chicago Wolves franchise history to post back-to-back shutouts. The 23-year-old made a combined 51 saves against the Milwaukee Admirals (March 11) and Texas Stars (March 15) for his set of goalless victories. Binnington’s shutout streak is an exact 125 minutes, and he would need another 48:58 to surpass the Wolves franchise record — 173:57 — set by Matt Climie from Jan. 11-16, 2013. The Ontario native’s confidence may be at an all-time high. “I think he’s more aggressive in net,” said Wolves head coach Craig Berube. “That’s what I see. He’s challenging more. He’s out of the blue paint, so he’s really cutting the angles off.” Binnington has started seven of Chicago’s last 10 games. More recently, he’s started six consecutive contests — a season high for Wolves goalies — from Feb. 26 to March 15. Over the course of those six games, Binnington posted a 5-0-1 record, .926 save percentage and 2.11 goals-against average.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 18: In Wednesday, right wing Ty Rattie scored in the shootout to clinch a 1-0 victory for the Chicago Wolves over the Texas Stars and mark the fourth time the Wolves have beaten the Stars in 10 games at Allstate Arena. Though not an official tally, Rattie’s goal marked the first time this season the 24-year-old has found the back of the net. In his fourth professional year, the Alberta native is having a tumultuous season. Despite being healthy the whole year, he has appeared in a combined 19 NHL and AHL games and recorded three assists. With just one point through 10 AHL games, Rattie is at all-time career lows. In each of Rattie’s previous seasons, he surpassed the 40-point benchmark. During his rookie season in 2013-14, the promising wing led the Chicago Wolves with 31 goals and 48 points.
- 4: While AHL standings are based on percentage points, in layman’s terms, the Chicago Wolves need four points — or two wins — in this weekend’s home-and- home series finale with the Grand Rapids Griffins to take over the top spot in the Central Division. Right now, although the Wolves have a one-point lead (82-81), they are lurking just 1.4 percentage points behind the Griffins. Chicago has to win in regulation tonight to unseat the Griffins. If they can’t win in regulation, they will still have a chance to bump Grand Rapids on Saturday (March 18) at Allstate Arena with a win in regulation or overtime.
- 5: On Wednesday, Kenny Agostino‘s latest point streak came to an end. The 24-year- old collected 12 points — three goals and nine assists — through five games from Feb. 26 to March 11. Agostino, the AHL’s leading scorer, was held scoreless for just the 14th time this season. Though the New Jersey native earned zero points toward his personal point totals, he was one of two scorers for the Chicago Wolves in the shootout to help the team earn a 1-0 shootout victory against the Texas Stars. Agostino’s second- round tally was the “winning” goal for the Wolves. Right wing Ty Rattie clinched the contest in the third round and netminder Jordan Binnington turned aside both Texas shooters for the win.
- 11: The Chicago Wolves come into Friday’s contest riding an 11-game unbeaten streak (9-0-2-0) while the Griffins have struggled and lost their last three games (0-1—0-2). Those three games were the tail end of a seven-game road trip and came against Pacific Division teams, including the Western Conference-leading San Jose Barracuda. Though the Griffins are amid a losing streak, they’ll be on home ice for the first time since Feb. 25. Conversely, this marks just the second game away from Allstate Arena in eight contests for the Wolves. Chicago hasn’t been terrible on the road this season — owning a 14-11-3-2 record — but have just one win to show for four trips to The Van this season.
- 26.9: The Grand Rapids Griffins boast a 26.9 percent success rate on the power play, and that’s good enough for the top spot in the American Hockey League. The league’s next-best team, the San Jose Barracuda, are three percentage points behind the Griffins. The Wolves’ man- advantage unit has been relatively successful all season — usually ranking in the league’s top 10 — but their fifth-ranked penalty kill will have to be at its finest to leash the Griffs’ power play. In head-to-head competition, Grand Rapids’ extra-man unit has excelled with a 30.3 percent success rate against Chicago. Conversely, the Wolves’ dependable power play has been anemic against the Griffins — converting just five times in 27 opportunities.
Last-Two Look Back
- The Wolves shut out the Stars to finish the four-game season series 3-0-1-0.
- Goaltender Jordan Binnington made 30 saves, as well as stopping both Stars shooters in the shootout, for his second consecutive shutouts.
- Forwards Kenny Agostino and Ty Rattie scored in the shootout to secure the win.
- Chicago blanked Milwaukee in the season series’ second shutout.
- Veterans Andrew Agozzino and James Wisniewski, as well as rookie Vince Dunn and Mackenzie MacEachern all tallied for the Wolves.
- Goaltender Jordan Binnington made 21 saves for his first shutout of the season.
Spend Friday night with the Wolves as they battle the Griffins for the top of the Central Division. Puck drop is set for 6:00 p.m. on The Utoo with Jason Shaver and Billy Gardner. It will also stream on AHLLive.com.